I’ve been thinking long and hard about what it takes to be happy in this day and age. With a million blogs out there on personal development, goal-setting, productivity and achieving your dreams – you’d think it be pretty easy to find the perfect recipe.
There’s one small problem: life happens.
There’s no way of knowing what life is going to dish out at you. Maybe something horrible happens; maybe you catch a really lucky break. It’s possible that you’ll set goals and achieve them and rise to the heights you always knew you could.
But it’s also possible (in fact, likely) that you’ll set goals and fail miserably – you’ll never quite live up to the bold, glimmering life you longed for.
Not the advice you were looking for
Here’s the part where you wait for me to deliver some amazing new insight. That’s what bloggers do right? Week after week we churn out new ideas about how to live or how to do this and that.
Well, here’s a blogger’s paradox for you: Everything that’s worth saying has probably been said by now. Sure, I can repackage it and deliver it on a really fancy platter – but the little nugget of truth is still the same.
That’s all there is to it. Bloggers aren’t reinventing the wheel; in fact we’re not even redesigning it. We’re saying the same things over and over again.
So what’s the point, you ask?
Easy. In order for something to really sink in, sometimes we need to hear it 3,4,5 or even a million times. The advice I’m about to share is as ancient as the sky is blue, but most of us (myself included) aren’t applying it to our lives in a way that works. We’re inhaling all this great advice, but then we’re sitting on it – and what’s the use in that?
Life – The really simple owner’s manual
The truth is, you’ve already got everything you need to be happy. There’s no owner’s manual that comes with the human body and tells you how to be happy because all it would say is this: “Quit your crying, get over yourself, be happy.”
1. Quit crying
We are master complainers. Almost anyone born in American or (insert developed nation here) is among the luckiest people to ever be born.
Money isn’t really an issue – at least the amount it takes to survive on. Technology has lowered the gates of entry into a world of possibilities and literacy is pretty much a given. So what more could we possibly want?
Yet we complain that college costs too much money. We complain that we’re too busy to do the things we really want. We wish we had been born more intelligent or more athletic. We literally waste away our lives crying about all the things we aren’t, all the things we can’t have, and all the bad breaks we’ve been given.
Let me propose a radical alternative: stop looking at the negatives and start looking at the amazing opportunities that lie in front of you. Do this every single waking second of your existence. Refuse to look at the downside when there’s an upside.
Every time you’re tempted to complain, stop yourself and take one small step towards the person you want to become. Instead of worrying about the future and the job you’ll never land, write another blog post about what it means to be happy. You’ll be surprised by the doors that open.
2. Get over yourself
Look around you. As humans we have an awful tendency to be drawn inward. We see the world through the small little bubble that is our own perspective. It’s easy to see why so many people are bored and stagnant – they’re living in a tiny little world that never changes.
The people I know that are happiest are always thinking about someone else. They look for opportunities to serve others, to connect with real people, to surround themselves with a passionate like-minded community.
Here’s a little secret I’m going to let you in on: the harder you try to be happy, the less it will happen. You see, when you making being happy a goal, there’s a shift that goes on in your heart. From that point on it’s about you and you begin making decisions based on what is in your immediate best interest or what brings you the most pleasure.
Since most humans are short-sighted by nature, we fail to realize that what will actually make us happiest is to be surrounded by people that really love and care for us, people that know us and share the same passions, interests, and ideas.
You don’t get that by doing things that “make you happy.” You get there by serving others, thinking about others before yourself and being the type of person that others want to call their friend.
I know I don’t need to tell you step by step how to be this person because you already know. Everyone knows. The real problem is it’s not easy. It doesn’t happen overnight. It takes dedication and perseverance and stick-to-it-tiveness.
3. Be happy
I can already tell some people are about to tune me out. That’s fine if you think you’ve got this whole happiness thing figured out. But I’m willing to wager that most of what you call happiness in your life has been circumstantial happiness.
What I mean is that your happiness isn’t the real deal. If something really bad were to happen, you’d not only be devastated (like all of us would be) you’d soon realize that your happiness was tied into something that would never last. It was a mere shadow of the real thing. That real thing is joy.
Joy is something that runs deep in your veins. It can’t be explained by circumstances (good or bad) and it can’t be taken away from you no matter what.
Joy reveals itself in a lot of ways. Just tonight my fiancé and I went out for a midnight snack at the local diner. Every time we go out, the same lady serves our table. She’s been working there for several years and her usual shift is 6pm – 6am, 7 days a week.
Most people would consider this awful – and I’m not here to disagree. But here’s the funny thing: this lady is a whole lot more joyful than most people.
She approaches the table with a big, genuine smile and when she asks you “how are you on this wonderful evening?” you know she means it more than any person who’s ever lived. You can see it in her sparkling eyes and hear it in here eager voice.
It makes me wonder… what makes this person so excited about life despite her ‘awful’ job. A job most of us would consider a dead end, working hours most people would despise. She’s there every night brightening people’s lives in that magical way she does.
A skimmer’s guide to life
Most of you will skim this article – that’s fine with me if you’ve got other things you want to do. Personally, I like to follow just a few blogs and read them thoroughly and enjoy all their posts but I guess there’s more than one way to skin a cat.
If you’re a skimmer – here’s your 10 point guide to being happy:
1. There is no owner’s manual for being happy – stop looking for one.
2. There’s no such thing as new advice – pretty much everything has been said.
3. But there’s a lot of value in hearing the same message over and over.
4. Being happy is really simple.
5. First, stop crying about all that’s wrong and realize how much you’ve got.
6. Second, stop trying to be happy – that’s the surest way not to get there.
7. Instead, care about others – serve them, befriend them, promote them.
8. Finally, happiness is a choice – you make it.
9. Stop reading about being happy and go do it.
The paradox of blogging about happiness
One thing I’ve noticed since I started this blog is that people really enjoy hearing an inspirational message. I could write for years about how to be happy and how to make your life wonderful and I could grow the most popular blog in the world.
But here’s the thing that nobody wants to tell you. The people who are happy and successful aren’t reading blogs about how to be happy and successful – you see, they’re too busy actually doing it.
I wish I could write the perfect blog post that would inspire each of you to do amazing things. But really, I don’t think it has much at all to do with my words. You’ve already heard this message a bazillion times. We’ve been preaching it since the dawn of time. The question I have for you is when are you going to stop reading about it and start doing it?
Maybe it’s easier to read about other people doing wonderful things with their lives and finding contentment with less than they ever imagined. It’s easier because you get to enjoy all the feel-goodness of success without sacrificing to get there.
It’s like watching a movie with a happy ending – sure it feels good, but at the end of the movie have you really done anything to make yourself a better person?
Maybe it’s time you gave yourself a long hard look in the mirror and decided once and for all what you’re made of. Maybe you start reading a few less blogs and start making real changes in your life. Maybe a whole new life starts this very moment. Go ahead… I dare you.
The editor of Ethical Living, and pursuer of relatively interesting information, Simon has a Masters Degree in Creative Writing and Journalism from the University of Wales, and is a photo-journalist and writer whose written and photographic work has been represented by the AFP news agency and appeared in newspapers across Europe and Asia.